4/22/2010 7:45am, #11
I was debating whether or not to post this, as it pertains to Shaolin rather than Taijiquan, but then I realize that similarly to what IIF said, the line between “Shaolin” and “Wudang” is for the most part imaginary. I hope you will forgive me for the seeming side track, but upon further reflection it ties into the topic very well.
With that in mind, I’d like to reference Adam Hsu’s 1983 Black Belt Magazine article, p.94-95. (yes, at some point Black Belt Mag. had integrity and actual research.)
The legend of Shaolin goes like this: Bodhidarma (Ta-Mo) came to China from India during Liang Dynasty (508-556.) His intent was to teach Buddhism to the Chinese. He crossed Yangtze River on a reed (a common mistranslation/misconception based on a homonym wei(boat)=wei(reed),) and arrived at Shaolin Temple where he found the monks too weak and unhealthy. He taught them Qi Gong that he brought from India. This resulted in the beginning Kung Fu.
However, as Hsu puts it: “To say that Kung Fu began with Ta Mo during the Liang Dynasty is to ignore a good amount of Chinese history.” Organized warfare and military training have been around long before 508 C.E. In fact, if we look at the Spring Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.E.) and the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.E.,) we clearly see that hundreds of wars had indeed occurred in China.
It is only logical to assume that military drills and weapon techniques were being taught to the military and conscripts, which evolved over time. For a military to be successful, knowledge of warfare and fighting technique would have to be under constant development. In fact, the Han Shu (漢書, the Han Histories,) has an index which includes sections on battle knowledge and martial arts.
To further drive the point home, there is a legend of King Wei Wen Ti of the Three Kingdoms Period (221-265 C.E.) who wanted to test his swordsmanship skills against a General Den, who was supposedly known for his unarmed skills. For a legend of this type to exist, we clearly see the presence of martial arts in the distant past that goes quite beyond Bodhidarma. In fact, this legend hints that martial skills were prevalent enough for a king to possess it.
Another interesting point that Hsu brings up, is that the Shaolin temple was that prior to Ta Mo’s arrival, there were already monks who were practitioners of martial arts. Many of them were men who were originally criminals seeking refuge. Once a “refugee” was accepted into the temple (as long as their crimes were not unpardonable, i.e. treason against the State,) they would no longer be hunted by the law. Often times, such men would bring their own martial arts techniques with them. Given the fact that Shaolin was a Buddhist monastery first and foremost, the prohibition against killing gave the monks a means to train in a light friendly environment, allowing them to further hone and develop their techniques, knowing that they were not in immediate danger of being killed by their partner. However, contrary to what we are faced with today, at no point was Shaolin considered a Kung Fu school.
Hsu makes another excellent point. The most famous weapon at Shaolin was the staff. The reason for this is simple. Since Shaolin was a Buddhist temple, no weapons were allowed inside (no more than machine guns or knives are allowed in a church.) The only thing available to the monks was a staff. Logically, it became the most developed weapon for the monks to train with.
Taking a glance further down in history, we take a look at General Qi Jiguang (a person who is quite significant to the development of Taijiquan, as I will discuss in depth at a later point.) The General was a highly educated man (as well as a connoisseur of art,) who did an extensive survey of China’s most famous and most effective martial art styles in order to create a more efficient training regimen for his troops. Nowhere in his texts did he mention anything pertaining to Shaolin, Internal Schools, or Taijiquan.
So how did Shaolin become associated with martial arts to the extent that we see today? It seems this phenomenon began sometime in the Qing Dynasty (Manchu, 1644-1912.) Prior to this point, Shaolin was neither emphasized, nor popular. However, as the Manchus conquered the Ming, more and more rebel groups began to spring up primarily in the South (while the Shaolin was North, where the Manchu government headquarters were located.) These underground organizations emphasized Shaolin because of it’s proximity to the Manchu nucleus (within their immediate influence,) and also to help foster a sense of holy purpose in their alignment with Buddhism.
Next came a popular series of fictional writings entitled the Sword Man Fictions. They featured the Shaolin as a major kung fu system, with branches in Fukien, Kwangtong, Szechwan, and others. These fictional stories, unfortunately, are responsible in large part for our perception of what Shaolin is today. Adam Hsu did in fact travel to several village sites mentioned in the stories, checking the fang chih or local records of each village. He also conducted interviews with the people living in those regions. He was unable to find any mention of Shaolin in any of these sources with the exception of Honan’s. However, no one he spoke to was able to provide him more information.
Finally, the major reason for so many “branches” of Shaolin schools that we see today, is the migration of martial arts teachers South during the Qing dynasty. Once the Shaolin brand name became popular due to the rebels and the spreading influence of the novels, the name Shaolin would attract students, and teachers were quick to capitalize on this fact. Shaolin was simply a “meta tag” of sorts, a key word to use for marketing purposes. To quote Hsu:
“They cared little about misconceptions and misunderstandings; they needed to make a living. If Shaolin kung fu attracted students, these sifu taught it, or they claimed their system decended from it.” (Hsu, 95)
The fact is, no instructor can reasonably prove that their system descended from Shaolin (with the exception of “…but my Sifu said so…”)
As I already mentioned, in 1928, the Chinese gvt. established the Central Government Martial Arts Institute (CMAI,) where Tang Hao became a director. Based on little initial research and propagation of myth, they divided the incoming martial arts into “Wudang” and “Shaolin,” further laundering the myths. While their views and policies changed after Tang Hao’s publication, the myth still managed to spread. This is why we see Shaolin as what it is today. A massive tourist trap and marketing gimmick for the Chinese government.
Black Belt Magazine, Nov 1983, Adam Hsu
More to come, stay tuned.
4/22/2010 8:56am, #12
- Join Date
- Jun 2004
- Judo, Hung Family Boxing
you have offended my family, and the shaolin temple...
:P nice work, looking forward to reading more."Face punches are an essential character building part of a martial art. You don't truly love your children unless you allow them to get punched in the face." - chi-conspiricy
"When I was a little boy, I had a sailor suit, but it didn't mean I was in the Navy." - Mtripp on the subject of a 5 year old karate black belt
"Without actual qualifications to be a Zen teacher, your instructor is just another roundeye raping Asian culture for a buck." - Errant108
"Seriously, who gives a **** what you or Errant think? You're Asian males, everyone just ignores you, unless you're in a krotty movie." - new2bjj
4/22/2010 10:54am, #13
Minor point: I witnessed a Staff demo in the Shaolin Temple UK a couple of years ago (and Hard Qi Gong) and I liked it. I would enjoy learning that and it would complement the Bo/Okinawan Bo forms that we learn. It was very skilfully done and the Sifu (an actual Monk, as opposed to a disciple) made the point that the Staff was the only "weapon" used by the Shaolin Monks. That rung true for to my ears. After all, hikers have long used Poles/Walking Sticks to assist their Climbs, fend off wild dogs etc.
Anyway, more please. Thanks
4/22/2010 4:13pm, #14
Part 2: The Yongle Emperor- How it All Began
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 C.E.) is commonly looked upon in Chinese history as a period of growth and stability. During this time we saw a significant increase the Chinese military and navy as China expanded it’s territories to Vietnam and attempted multiple incursions into Mongolia. During this period, we saw the moving of the government Capital from Nanjing north to Beijing, a move which proved to be a tactical disaster. The Muslim eunuch captain Zheng He was sent as an envoy to various surrounding countries and continents going as far as East Africa, and Taoism grew in size, power, and influence.
However, for our purposes, let us focus on one particular Ming ruler who set many of these events in motion during his tenure on the Ming throne. The Yongle Emperor (永樂, meaning “perpetual happiness”) born Zhu-Di, also known as Chen-Tzu (明成祖.)
It was Yongle who was responsible for the expansion of the Navy and the military, as well as rebuilding Mt. Wudang, and setting it up as the Mecca of Taoism during this time period. He was also responsible for the organization and printing of the new edition of a Taoist Canon, and the revival of Taoism as a powerful religious force.
At the death of the Hongwu Emperor in 1398 at the ripe age of 71 (having outlived his eldest son,) he made his firstborn son’s eldest son heir to the Ming throne at the age of 21. The young Jiangwen emperor barely took the throne when Yongle staged his 3 year coup resulting in a small scale civil war, and the apparent death of the young prince. (Palais, 223.) Being an exceptional military strategist and a seasoned general, Yongle had the backing of the military (and most surprisingly the Uriyangkhai Mongols.) (Chase, 47) He held the Ming throne from 1403 C.E., until his death in 1425 C.E.
Some of Yongle’s greatest accomplishments as a ruler include putting approximately 2000 scholars to work in making a 50-million word compendium of information and records drawn from some 7000 texts (something that would later be known as the Yongle Encyclopedia.) In 1406, he brought Zhang Yuchu (1361-1410,) a 43rd generation Celestial Master who had earlier been dismissed by Jiangwen, back into court. (It should be noted that Zhang was one of the people later sent to Wudang, to look for Zhang San Feng.)
Zhang Yuchu (Yuqing) along with Ren Ziyuan (a name I will have you note for later) was assigned the task of collecting and classifying the multitudes of Taoist texts. This time consuming endeavor led to the compilation of the Da Ming daozhang jing, Scriptures of the Taoist Canon of the Ming Dynasty, a text of utmost historical and religious significance. (Pregadio, 1240) Yongle was also responsible for putting together texts from Cheng-Tzu and the Analects of Confucius to assist those studying for civil examination records. (Palais, 224.)
The Rise of Wudang:
In 1412, the temples and monasteries on Mt Wudang (武当山, Wudang Shan,) began to be rebuilt and repopulated. As early as the Yuan Dynasty, Wudang had a range of Taoist palaces. However, before the dynasty’s collapse, most of those temples had been reduced to ruin. During Yongle’s reign, 9 Taoist Palaces, 9 large temples, 36 nunneries, and 72 smaller temples and pavilions were erected. (Yuan, 118)
At the foot of Wudang, Yongle’s workers constructed the Jingle Palace. Above the Zixiao (Purple Sky) Palace on what is called the Tianzho (Heavenly Peak,) the Emperor had erected the “Golden Palace,” likening the peak to him self. He set Zhenwu/Xuanwu (玄武, The Perfected Warrior) as the chief patron deity of the temple. It is said that the Zhenwu/Xuanwu statue placed there, was modeled after Yongle. Three years after its completion, a wall of rectangular stone slabs was erected around the palace, and the area renamed “Purple Golden City” mirroring the Emperor’s Forbiden City palace which was called “Purple Forbidden City.” (Yuan, 119) General public not allowed entry until 1642, after the collapse of the Ming dynasty.
What is interesting to note, is that at the time of Yongle’s reign, Taoism was beginning to dwindle. Furthermore, the emperor himself was not a Taoist, nor did he ever visit any of the shrines or temples he had constructed. (Yuan, 118) This raises an important question: why did Yongle spend so much time, effort, and resources on rebuilding and supporting Wudang? Why did he spend so many resources revitalizing a dwindling religion which he himself did not follow?
We find one potential answer in the multitudes of inscriptions on stone tablets located in several places on Mt. Wudang. According to these inscriptions, he did all this to repay the Gods for their help in running the country. In addition, he wished to show filial piety to his parents (Hongwu was a follower of Zhenwu/Xuanwu,) and pray for the happiness of his people. (Yuan, 118)
However, if we recall, Yongle did usurp the imperial throne in a violent manner. What better way to justify his actions than by launching a massive project to rebuild a major Taoist holy site to show that he had the same faith as his father, and was therefore a filial son who had the protection of the same god Zhenwu/Xuanwu as his father?
This theory would explain at least in part, Yongle’s contributions to Taoism, as well as his summoning of various religious leaders, and distinguished Taoists.
The Search for a True Immortal:
Yongle’s contribution to Taoism did not end with his encyclopedia, the reprinting of the Taoist Canon, or rebuilding a holy site. It was in large part due to the Emperor’s (mayhap unintentional) efforts, that the name Zhang San Feng (張三丰/ 張三豐/昌山峰) became infamous.
You may all have heard this legend repeated thousands of times: The Taoist Immortal Zhang San Feng (which ever of the 3 names you prefer,) was summoned to the Emperor’s palace. On his way there, he fell asleep, and in his dream, the Warrior God Zhenwu/Xuanwu taught him a martial art. Upon waking up he slew one thousand bandits, and invented Taiji Quan.
Or the second variety: One day Zheng San Feng saw a crane and a snake fighting outside his home. By studying their movement, he created Taiji Quan.
Some accounts of which animals he saw fighting vary as well.
While we may never know what kind of dreams Zhang San Feng may have had, how many people he killed, or how many animals he watched, we do know that a summons was sent out by both the Hongwu Emperor in 1391, (Pregadio, 1234) as well as by his son, Yongle in 1411. (Kohn, 598) Neither was successful in bringing the elusive Taoist to the Imperial court.
How do we know a Zhang San Feng was summoned anywhere, let alone that there was a Zhang San Feng? We check all available records from the Ming Dynasty and slightly beyond. If we ignore all the mind numbing mythology and folk anecdotes that have been accepted by the more gullible as “oral tradition,” we will see that the afformentioned myths and folk tales stem from 2 primary documents (there is a third, but it is somewhat problematic.) They are:
-Dayue Taihe Shanzhi, Annals of Mt. Taihe (another name for Wudang)/Monographs of the High Peak of Great Harmony, compiled by Ren Ziyuan, dated 1431. This is the earliest record available.
-The Mingshi (明史, History of the Ming,) a project which began around 1644 and was completed in 1739. The history was compiled in the Qing dynasty by a number of court officials, all of whom were overseen by Zhang Tingyu.
It should be noted that only Ren Ziyuan’s account is written within the time period of the Zhan San Feng events. It also appears to be the only true eye-witness account. Nevertheless, the reason why both are ideally suited as reliable above all others is twofold: First, they all come from historically noted scholars. Second, both are official government records of their time, and as such, are extremely unlikely to be forgeries, or whimsical writings of a sectarian revisionist. In the words of Dr. Hu, “What is recorded in these annals cannot be considered anything but the undisputed fact for the events of that period.” (Hu, 21)
The third record I have been going over is:
-The Ch’I Hsiu Lei Kao compiled by Lang Ying (1487-?,) a Ming Dynasty scholar
The problem with this record lies in the fact that Lang was seemingly born in 1487, and yet is quoted in the Ch’I Hsiu Lei Kao as having witnessed the arrival of Zhang San Feng in court in 1459. Either the dates cited are incorrect, or we have an instance of questionable writing being attributed to a famous author.
In the next section, we will examine the 3 records side by side, as well as take a closer look at their authors.
1. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Anne Walthall, James Palais
2. Firearms: a Global History to 1700, Kenneth Warren Chase
3. World Heritage Sites in China, Changjian Guo, Jianzhi Song, Lingyu Feng, Guo wu Yuan
4. Encyclopedia of Taoism, Fabrizio Pregadio
5. Daoism Handbook, Livia Kohn
6. Black Belt Magazine, September 1964, Dr. William C. C. Hu
4/23/2010 8:14am, #15
Just a quick append to that hovering 3rd record by Lang Ying. (I was up all night reading.)
He was definitely born after the Zhang San Feng events. The given birth date in the Dictionary of Ming Biography (Asian Studies, Ann Arbor MI) as 1487. His last known active date was 1566, end of the Chia-ching period. His gig was writing about the events which took place at Ming court. The above mentioned record was published in the Chia-ching period (~1522-1566,) long after the events in question.
Although he was quite a prolific writer and educated scholar who commented on everything from literature, art, and morality, he also failed to cite many of his sources, and was very uncritical of what he copied, merely repeating the statements and opinions of others.
As such, it is an interesting look into the events of the Ming court, but should definitely not be held as 100% solid fact.
More to come.
4/23/2010 10:17am, #16
4/28/2010 3:39pm, #17
Appending Part 2: The Politics and Government of Yongle
I would like to sincerely apologize for this update being so late. Work has picked up quite a bit, and reading has slowed down. Furthermore, I had a few new books come in, and one important book NOT come in, all of which led to significant delays. I am still reading new material and making notes, but this section is now complete. I hope you find it informative.
PART 2.2: A Footnote on Yongle
Before we go any further into examining the earlier mentioned records, I would like to go over something that I feel strongly deserves our attention, and may well change our perception of the records as well as the historical significance they play in the formation of the numerous Cults of Zhang San Feng.
What I would first like you to note, is the fact that Yongle sent his envoys to look for Zhang San Feng starting in 1407. He sent out another envoy in 1411, and after an uneventful search he set about reconstructing Wudang in 1412, where he set up a eunuch office. I will discuss the significance of these things in a moment. First, let us glean a clearer context of Yongle’s reign, the political atmosphere that he imposed, and his use of violence, terror, and religion to accomplish his goals.
To get a better understanding of his policies and methodology, we should begin at the start of Yongle’s reign, when a number of court officials opposed his coup. Among them, a lead Confucian scholar by the name of Fang Xiaoru (方孝孺, 1357—1402) refused to draft an official proclamation of Yongle’s ascension. Yongle, upon hearing of this, threatened the scholar with a family extermination. Upon being mocked by Fang, Yongle executed every man, woman, child of Fang’s family, every distant relative, every friend and associate, even going as far as to execute all those students who had passed the Imperial examination while Fang presided as the examiner. (Palais, 224) Before his death, he was forced to watch the execution of his brother. Despite being a slick politician when the situation called for it, we clearly see that Yongle was quite ruthless, not above using terror and violent tactics to enforce his will.
When it came to religion, the Ming emperors were all in a constant state of worry that a political opponent would use a Buddhist or Taoist religious body to assume control of the masses and organize a rebellion. This worry was not unfounded, as we had seen with the Red Turban Rebellion (which the earlier Hongwu Emperor was himself part of) in the Yuan Dynasty. In fact, we see this occur when Tang Sai’er, a Shangdong native and supposed co-founder of the White Lotus Sect (another significant name I would have you note,) declared herself the Mother of Buddha in 1420 in opposition to the ruler. Yongle thought nothing of having every Buddhist nun brought to his capital in Beijing to apprehend her. (Kohn, Handbook, 616)
Having already established that Yongle was not prone to religious devotion unless it suited his purposes (for example, when he used various Buddhist rituals and ceremonies to unite the Chinese frontier tribes,) we can now get a somewhat clearer picture of his possible intentions when undertaking the reconstruction of Wudang.
The Violent Politics of Ming
The Ming dynasty entailed a bloody, violent, political culture. This was in part the result of the previous Yuan Dynasty’s implementation of Confucian laws barring corporal punishment of public officials. In an effort to purge all elements of the Yuan (Mongol Influence) from China, all such laws were reversed. Throughout the Dynasty, especially where the eunuchs held power, untold numbers of the Imperial court received a taste of corporal punishment as a result. Many did not survive the bloody torture. (Lu, 43)
Another significant political factor was the Imperial secret police (an agency consisting of Yongle’s zealous eunuchs,) and the Imperial prison. They were able to function independently of the main official law administration, reporting directly to the Emperor, whose power and personal control they were initially established to uphold. This body of essentially rogue agents had the power to meddle in court affairs, monitor court officials as well as civilians, and exercised the power to arrest and torture in the Emperor’s name. (Luo, 71) In practice, they became what Weijing Lu describes as “machines of terror,” able to crush the Emperor’s political opponents without repercussions. In these violent times, Ming officials were literally putting their lives on the line while fulfilling their social functions. (Lu, 43)
Yongle’s Use of Eunuchs
During the civil war of 1402 when Yongle staged his 2 year coup, many eunuchs were put to use in the field of battle, making significant contributions to his victory. By 1403, Yongle appointed tactically savvy eunuchs to significant military positions in order to deal with his enemies on the bordering provinces and areas of greatest military need. (Tsai, Eunuchs, 59) In time, Yongle would come to rely on the eunuchs more and more, to the point of forming an Imperial secret police consisting entirely of eunuchs.
“The eunuchs were very much creatures of the emperor, and could usually be relied upon to do his bidding unquestioningly much more than the strongly-principled Confucian officials, who argued bravely against what they felt to be wrong imperial decisions.” (Haw, 133) As Yongle’s personal agents, eunuchs held prominent positions in all manner of fields and agencies. It is then of no surprise that Yongle established a eunuch agency at Wudang to manage production of various goods. (Tsai, Eunuchs, 58) However, as was in the Emperor’s nature, the agency may have had another purpose which I will get into shortly.
Changing Historical Records
Another interesting and possibly relevant point, is the formation of the “Hanlin bachelors,” or shu ji shih. By spring of 1404, some 473 graduates of Hanlin Academy (翰林院) were recruited into the Emperor’s service. They were to remain at the academy in pursuit of their studies, while providing various literary services to the court. Of critical note, was the editing of Hongwu Emperor’s Veritable Records. It should be also noted that as soon as Yongle took control of the Imperial household, he sent orders to revise his father’s own Veritable Record. (Tsai, Perpetual Happiness, 88)
Hu Ying- Looking for a Taoist Sage
It seems that the ultimate fate of the Jiangwen emperor is only guessed at. We do not know for a fact if he in fact died in the fire of 1402, or, if he escaped in disguise as a Buddhist monk or a Taoist priest. (Asian Studies, 643, Kohn, Handbook, 615) It has always been highly suspected that Hu Ying (1375-1463,) was sent out to search for a Zheng San Feng as a cover. Yongle could not openly search for a man who was by all accounts the rightful heir to the Imperial throne, with the intent of murder. Hu’s true purpose may well have been ascertaining whether or not Jiangwen had escaped the burning palace, and was still alive.(Kohn, Handbook, 615)
To carry out his mission, Hu traveled over 14 years, returning to court in 1416 at the news of his mother’s death. Interestingly, the emperor did not allow Hu the proper period of mourning, and sent him back out to search. Hu was not seen again until 1423, when he returned having completed his mission. Considering the fact that Zhang san Feng was never found, and the fact that Hu’s final report was not delivered to anyone but the Emperor himself, we can clearly see why it arouses much suspicion. (Asian Studies, 643)
Ren Ziyuan and the Zhang Yuqing
Ren Ziyuan (任自垣, fl. 1400-1422) and Zhang Yuqing (張宇初, 1364-1427) were appointed the main editors in the compilation of a new Taoist Canon. (Kohn, Chinese Culture, 174) Zhang Yuqing was the 44th Celestial Master who served the Hongwu Emperor. He was dismissed by Jiangwu when he took the throne, and later, brought back into court by Yongle when he took power.
Ren Ziyuan (任自垣) was a Taoist who received religious and classical training at the Wanning gong (萬寧宮, Monastery of Ten-Thousandfold Quietude) on Maoshan. In 1411, he was sent along with Hu Ying to track down Zhang San Feng. In 1413 he became the head of all Wudang temples. During this time, he compiled a local monograph, the Tayue Taihe Shanzi, The Monograph of the High Peak of Great Harmony (another title for Mt. Wudang.) (Kohn, Handbook, 598) Historically this was the first mention of a Zhang San Feng, giving his biography, as well as his description.
Putting It All Together
So what is the significance of this politically oppressive atmosphere, public displays of punishment, secret police, and a eunuch agency at Wudang? What is the significance of Hu Ying, Zheng He, Ren Ziyuan and the Zhang Yuqing, the 44th Celestial Master? Why concern ourselves with Yongle’s editing historical records and establishing a eunuch agency to enforce his will independently of the legal branch? And more importantly, how does it all relate to Zhang San Feng or the history of Taiji Quan?
Let us start from the top. Yongle stages a coup against the rightful heir to the throne, and brutally exterminates a political opponent (Fang Xiaoru.) This, and public displays of corporal punishment essentially ensure that others do not openly oppose him. He sets up a secret service agency consisting of allegiant eunuchs who are able to act outside of the law to enforce the Emperor’s will. Then, he sets about rewriting his father’s historical records, and sends out Hu Ying on his mysterious mission (to track down a Zhang San Feng) in 1407. In 1411 he sends out Ren Ziyuan for the same purpose. After not hearing back, he sets his sights on rebuilding Wudang in 1412 and forms a eunuch agency there. (And as we already established, eunuchs are both part of the Imperial secret service, and fiercely loyal to the Emperor.)
What does this tell us? If we are to believe the fact that the earlier Jiangwen Emperor survived the fire and did indeed escape, that would leave Yongle searching for the deposed Jiangwen, lest he gather enough forces to retaliate against the usurpation. Yongle, however, being the sly politician and brilliant tactician that he was, would not likely do this in the open and risk a revolt. To search for his deposed nephew he would need a cover. This is where Hu Ying and the search for Zhang San Feng come in.
As stated earlier, Yongle with the help of the Hanlin bachelors edited his father’s historical records. The exact level of changes made is unknown (mostly pertaining to writing the Jiangwen Emperor out of history.) It was Ren Ziyuan who wrote the first existing record from which we obtain the first biography of Zhang San Feng, his physical description, as well as the story of Hongwu sending for the Immortal in 1391 (Pregadio, 1234.) It is a very strong possibility that this was fabricated in order to add a layer of plausibility to Yongle’s cover story in his search for Jiangwen. Promoting Ren and Zhang and bringing them into court favor could have ensured their cooperation (if not fear of consequences for defying the Emperor.) However, since there are absolutely no mentions of a Zhang San Feng in Hongwu’s records, it is doubtful if Yongle was particularly interested in inserting him into history prior to the 1400’s, and may have mostly kept to writing Jiangwen out of history.
With all this information now assembled, we can conclude that Ren Ziyuan’s account was heavily influenced by Yongle’s politics and revisionism with the intent to provide a cover and justification for his ongoing search for Jiangwen. His rebuilding of Wudang may have been an attempt to kill two birds with one stone (being the sly tactician that he was.) That is to say, win over the Taoist religious body by offering support, win over the masses who followed Taoist beliefs, and search for Jiangwu (in the event he was hiding as a Taoist adept) while creating a Zhang San Feng persona to justify his agents scouring the country and various holy sites. The eunuch agency established on Wudang could also in part have been tasked with tracking and sorting rumors of Jiangwen, in order to capture him.
Since the vast majority of later records dealing with Zhang San Feng relied heavily on Ren’s account, (possibly including that of Lang Ying who mostly commented on existing material, and especially that of the Mingshi 明史 which was merely a Qing collection of Ming court records,) we can see how the myths of Zhang San Feng rose to prominence. The publicity surrounding the name and fame of Zhang San Feng made him a legend more than actions ever could have. In fact, scholars suspect that no such Taoist ever existed, or at least that he was the subject of mythologizing at a very early point. (Kohn, Handbook, 614)
As a result of Yongle’s actions, a cult of Zhang San Feng developed, in part due to the creation of new stories about him, in part due to claims of increasingly early dates for his life. Later on, these myths and legends would be collected and published by Jiao Hong (1541-1620) at the end of the Ming dynasty. This publication would be the basis for many of the myths and supernatural stories about the life of Zhang San Feng, including speculations that he was in fact from the Yuan or Sung dynasty. (Kohn, Handbook, 615) This publication may have been part of the inspiration for the epitaph of Wang Cheng Nan, which connects Zhang San Feng with an “Internal School.” I will discuss some of the more prominent Zhang San Feng cults such as the Three In One in a future section.
To recap: no currently available historical account of Zhang San Feng is reliable, and should be viewed with great skepticism.
One thing I would like to point out, is that over the centuries, many different teachings and techniques had been attributed to Zhang San Feng. Martial arts are only the more recent trend. In short, this phenomenon has been around since the Ming dynasty, and is simply another facet of China's mythological trends, or as I like to call it, the Zheng San Feng invent everything factor.
Dictionary of Ming Biography 1368-1644: A-L, N-Z, Association for Asian Studies
Daoism Handbook, Livia Kohn
Daoism and Chinese Culture, Livia Kohn
True to Her Word: The Faithful Maiden Cult in Late Imperial China, Weijing Lu
East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Patricia Ebrey, Anne Walthall, James Palais
Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle, Shih-Shan Henry Tsai
The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty, Shih-shan Henry Tsai
A Travel History of China, Stephen G. Haw
Over a Cup of Tea: An Introduction to Chinese Life and Culture, Jing Luo
Encyclopedia of Taoism, Fabrizio Pregadio
4/29/2010 6:37am, #18
Just to give something of a road map in terms of where I am headed with the next few writeups:
Next up would be the 3 earliest records describing Zhang San Feng, their plausability, and how they influenced the various myths and folk stories.
Following that (not necessarily in sequential order):
-the formation of Zhang San Feng cults and their spread through China, including the current supposed burial site of Zhang San Feng
-the phenomenon of attributing Taoist techniques, teachings, and various texts to Zhang San Fang
-the formation of the White Lotus and the Eight Trigram sects, their relation to the Wu/Li families (authors of the Taiji Classics,) and how Zhang San Feng may have made his way into Taiji Quan lineage
As always, if I can answer any questions, I will do so to the best of my ability.
4/29/2010 10:20am, #19
Wow! Awesome work. So what is the significance of Eunuchs? I mean is it simply because the emperor figured that if a guy wasn't chasing tail, he would do what he is told better? Or is there some other symbolism of being a eunuch?
And while all this is going on, is Tai Chi, Shaolin, Hsing i, Ba gua being practiced under different names or the same names? Or are they not being practiced yet? Sorry if you covered that, and I missed it.
4/29/2010 10:35am, #20
The eunuchs were generally obtained from what was thought of as "non-Chinese" families at a very young age through somewhat questionable means, and trained to serve the Emperor. In the case of Zheng He, who was very much a contemporary of Christopher Columbus, he was bought as a child from a Chinese Muslim family. However, there were instances of self castration, but since it doesn't pertain to my reading range, I'm afraid I must plead ignorance.
Druing his reign, Yongle relied heavily on eunuchs, and found them to be extremely loyal and reliable, more so than Confucian scholars who would debate his actions.
Since Eunuchs did not question the Emperor and had no real incentive to cease the throne from him, they were best suited to form his secret service.
I'm sorry if it's still vague. There's quite a bit of material to compress, and at times it can come out as a confusing wall of text. Please let me know if this explains it, or if there is something else I still need to clarify. (I need to take more writing courses. I know I have an unfortunate tendency to ramble.)
And while all this is going on, is Tai Chi, Shaolin, Hsing i, Ba gua being practiced under different names or the same names? Or are they not being practiced yet? Sorry if you covered that, and I missed it.
Taiji, Hsing-I, and Bagua have not yet been created. (That is at least true for Taijiquan, I'm not certain about the other two.) However, the principles of Taiji, or at least various elements of it's philosophy, are probably around at this point. Just not as a martial art, or rather not as one single unified martial art. I will cover this more in depth when we get to Qi Jiguang (戚繼光.)